Pharmaceutical company Sanofi has just invested US$180 million (€159 million) in Franco-American startup Owkin.

The startup, specializing in AI-assisted methods in medicine, has developed a platform with predictive algorithms that aim to improve research into and development of new treatments against cancer. This will enable researchers and hospitals to use patients' medical data without compromising their privacy.

By signing a strategic partnership with Owkin, the French pharmaceutical giant seeks to use this platform to optimize clinical trials by finding new biomarkers to develop models that will predict treatment outcomes. The technology will be used to develop treatments for lung cancer, breast cancer and multiple myeloma (bone marrow cancer).

The initial US$90 million, to be invested over three years, will be matched with additional milestone payments, should Owkin's biomedical models prove to be successful.

Owkin, the majority of whose team is based in Paris, was co-founded in 2016 by Dr. Thomas Clozel, a clinical research doctor and former assistant professor in clinical hematology, and Dr. Gilles Wainrib, a pioneer in the field of artificial intelligence in biology. Sanofi's investment in Owkin, which won the AI Tech Challenge in Ile de France/Paris region in 2019, will enable the startup to continue to grow and achieve its primary objective: to build the world’s largest cancer genomic database.

The investment, which gives Sanofi a stake of between 10% and 15% in Owkin, has resulted in the startup being valued​ at more than US$1 billion. Owkin thus joins the still very small club of French unicorns in the health sector, alongside Doctolib and Dental Monitoring.

Owkin is playing a key role in increasing diversity in the tech world. Its Chief Technology Officer, Camille Marini, who has been Technical Director for more than a year, is one of the few women to hold such a position in the French tech ecosystem. According to Atomico’s latest State of European Tech Report, in the last three years, only 1% of the CTOs of 348 European startups - which raised more than US$10 million in 2020 - have been women.